Graduate students benefit from instructor’s human resources experiences at state level
When human resources specialist Gerard Buan, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, first considered pursuing a graduate degree, he had a lot on his plate. He was holding down a full-time job and raising two young children. The idea of taking on advanced studies was daunting.
“I was nervous about the idea of grad school,” said Buan. “But someone I worked with, who was an instructor, told me I needed to change my paradigm. I needed to realize I’d be entering a ‘learning community’ where I’d be contributing to the knowledge base of the entire class.”
That mindset served Buan well, and he graduated with a Master of Science in human resources from Brandman University (then Chapman University) in 2011. Now, the longtime human resources generalist, who works for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, is himself an instructor.
He teaches human resources graduate courses, including benefits, HR systems, compensation, legal issues, and conflict and negotiation at Brandman’s campus on Joint Base Lewis–McChord Field. Many of his students are military personnel making the transition to civilian life. “I find it inspiring to see the commitment, energy and enthusiasm of folks making that transition,” said Buan. “To be part of that change is very fulfilling for me.”
Buan got his start in human resources after receiving his undergraduate degree in psychology in the Philippines, his home country. Early in his career, he worked for a human resources manager who managed the department the way human resources is being taught today. “I was fortunate because this manager understood that HR is there to help the business achieve its goals,” explained Buan. “I was way ahead of the curve because I learned about strategic HR very early in my career.”
Obtaining his graduate degree gave Buan an even greater understanding of the role HR plays in the workplace. “Until I got my graduate degree, I didn’t really approach my job strategically,” he said. “My Brandman classes gave me the ability to see HR as a network of related sub-systems, and how HR strategy can be used to support overall business strategy.”
Buan uses real-life examples to teach his current classes. “I don’t repeat the information from the textbooks during lecture,” said Buan. “I expect my students to know the concepts while I provide practical situations or related contemporary issues to broaden their understanding.”
The ability to share real-life cases with his students is important for Buan. Working in HR for the state as a generalist, he deals with “everything and anything that can happen” in the workplace. Buan has been in HR for almost 17 years, and worked for five years as a recruiter and HR generalist for the Department of Ecology before taking his current role. “I always tell my students that the only reason I keep my full-time HR job is to be a more effective HR instructor,” said Buan. “Teaching is my true calling.”
When potential students ask Buan for his advice on whether they should pursue an advanced degree, he doesn’t hesitate.
“Education is my passion, so I always tell them to go for it,” he said. “It’s not about having the degree’s initials after your name, it’s about the knowledge you gain from the learning community, the relationships established, and the confidence that comes with knowing that you made a conscious and personal effort towards your professional development.”
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